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deadfall-poster

The holidays sure can be a stressful time: folks travel across the country to be with their families, sometimes traveling in considerably less than ideal weather conditions…massive meals are planned, with all of the requisite headaches and hair-pulling that those endeavors entail…the need to create the “perfect” holiday memories can make people so frazzled that they don’t actually have time to enjoy said holiday memories. Want to make it even more stressful? Toss a recently-released jailbird son and a pair of insane, bank-robbing siblings into the mix and see how eager everyone is to sing Kumbaya around the hearth.

Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky takes all of the above-mentioned elements and whips them into the studiously serious, pseudo-noir crime thriller that is Deadfall (2012) and the results are predictable but certainly not without their charms. In fact, Deadfall actually features one of the more intriguing casts to pop up in a B-grade thriller in quite some time, featuring the likes of Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Kate Mara, Charlie Hunnam, Treat Williams, Olivia Wilde and Eric Bana. If the film, itself, is a bit of the same-old, same-old, well…it’s certainly not for a lack of trying!

It’s Thanksgiving and former boxing sensation Jay “Mohawk” Mills (Charlie Hunnam in restrained SamCro mode) has just been released from prison after a scandal involving throwing a fight. Traveling back to his snowy, childhood home for a long-delayed reunion with his loving mother (Sissy Spacek) and less than adoring father/former local sheriff (Kris Kristofferson), Jay stops off to collect money from his trainer and ends up back on the run (doh!).

Meanwhile, insane brother/sister robbers Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) have just survived the get-away crash that’s smeared their accomplish all over creation. Opting to split up, even though Liza seems rather childlike and patently incapable of taking care of herself, Addison heads off for a series of minor adventures (including a brutal fight to the death over a snowmobile) while Liza ends up running (almost literally) right into Jay. If you guessed that all of these characters would somehow end up back at Jay’s folks’ house, along with the current sheriff (Treat Williams) and his daughter/deputy/Jay’s former flame (Kate Mara), well…you’d be right, buddy: good job!

Plot-wise, Deadfall does nothing that hasn’t been done fifty times before, if not a hundred: this story of a troubled black sheep returning home to protect his family from dangerous outside forces is as much of a classical trope as “quest films” or “coming-of-age” stories. First-time screenwriter Zach Dean turns in a fairly succinct script, although there were a couple puzzling loose/hanging threads that would’ve been better clipped. The dialogue isn’t really anything to write home about but there’s a pleasant sense of underplaying (for the most part) that lends an added veneer of authenticity to the proceedings. Again, nothing special but perfectly serviceable for this type of thing.

Indeed, Deadfall ends up being such a middle-of-the-road, obvious thriller that its big selling point is going to be that ridiculously diverse cast: as can be expected, putting all your cinematic eggs in one basket can be a dicey affair. While Spacek, Kristofferson and Mara all offer up great, subtle performances, Bana, Wilde and Williams aim straight for the nosebleed seats and the juxtaposition is pretty jarring. I’m usually a fan of all three of the aforementioned actors (Wilde, in particular, has done some great work lately) but their over-the-top performances, here, were definite turn-offs. Bana probably comes off the strangest, since Addison’s character/motivations seem to change on a whim but Williams is, without a doubt, the film’s absolute acting nadir, turning in a “performance” that’s so one-note, obnoxious and tedious that I was hoping for his death a few minutes after his introduction.

Hunnam, for his part, finds ground somewhere in the middle: think of this as a particularly slow-burn version of his Sons of Anarchy main-stay, Jax, and you aren’t far off the mark. While it would be nice to finally see Hunnam step out of the shadows of his former day job, his performance, here, is probably the most nuanced that I’ve witnessed of his outside of the small screen (which, to be fair, was the furthest thing from nuanced). Hunnam’s a perfectly fine leading man: he’s handsome, brooding, tough and just troubled enough to keep from seeming like a whining idiot. The problem, of course, is that his performances never seem to dig deeper than a pretty stock set of emotions/expressions: tired resignation; irritation; melancholy; seething anger. With a more nuanced, immersive performance at the center, Deadfall might have had a bit more impact than it does.

At the end of the day, Deadfall is a perfectly serviceable little thriller, even if it never aspires to be more than that. The film looks great (cinematographer Shane Hurlbut gets lots of mileage out of the gorgeous, snow-covered landscape) and features an appropriately atmospheric score, has a good cast doing (mostly) good work and has plenty of organic, unforced tension running through its fairly short runtime. Despite all of this, however, there’s just not a whole lot that sets Deadfall apart from the pack. File this with the other stack of well-intentioned, well-made but thoroughly generic genre films and move on to the next adventure.

 

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